Opposition, Coalition MKs Call on PM to Quit in Wake of 3Rd Probe

New criminal investigation focuses on activities during Olmert's tenure as Industry and Trade Minister.

MKs from across the political spectrum called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign, after the attorney general announced on Sunday the lauching of a third criminal investigation into his political activities.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Sunday ordered the third concurrent investigation into Olmert on suspicion he granted improper political favors while serving as industry and trade minister between 2003 and 2005.

In remarks aired on Israel Radio Monday, the chairman of the Knesset Control Committee, MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), said that "no human being can manage a state while carrying on his back three criminal investigations," and called on Mazuz to speed up the investigation.

Orlev insisted that he is not calling for new elections, and recommended Kadima appoint a replacement for the prime minister.

Many in the opposition as well as the coalition's Labor party responded to the attorney general's announcement with calls for Olmert to step down. Members of the Labor party were also heard threatening to leave the coalition, which is headed by the prime minister.

In a different case, the prime minister was questioned by police last week twice over suspicions that he tried to rig the sale of Israel's second-largest bank, Leumi, in favor of two associates during his tenure as finance minister.

Olmert is also suspected of buying a Jerusalem home from a real estate developer at a substantial discount in return for helping the builder obtain construction permits from Jerusalem authorities.

Head of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) demanded that Olmert suspend himself from his post, saying "the prime minister is breaking records as the subject of serial investigations. Never have there been four concurrent criminal investigations into the actions of a single political figure in Israel." Pines asked to convene the Labor party for a discussion on "the [party's] continued partnership with Olmert."

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said that "the moment is coming when the Labor Party will no longer be able to serve as fig leaf to cover up Olmert's corruption, and the party must seriously consider withdrawing from the government."

MK Arieh Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) said that "even if Olmert escapes to Annapolis, he won't escape Israel's judicial system." He added that law experts have stated that Olmert will likely stand trial for the charges surrounding the investment center affair.

Gideon Sa'ar, the chairman of the Likud faction, said that Olmert was "the most investigated prime minister, with the lowest popularity," and therefore, "he has no right to negotiate the fate of Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and it is doubtful whether he can go on managing the affairs of the state."

In a statement released Sunday, the Justice Ministry that Mazuz will investigate new suspicions of:

  • Alleged cronyism by Olmert while he headed an investment center operated by the Industry and Trade Ministry

  • Alleged political appointments by Olmert via the Small Business Authority

  • Alleged political appointments by Olmert throughout the Industry and Trade Ministry

    Noting that thus far, Mazuz has opened an investigation into every allegation made against the prime minister, the Justice Ministry statement said, "In practice, all suspicions and allegations, whether made wholeheartedly or halfheartedly, have been transferred in full to the police for handling."

    State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has also accused Olmert of helping to push through a grant for a business linked to a colleague, during his stint as industry and trade minister.

    According to the Justice Ministry, however, a preliminary inquiry carried out by the police uncovered new material that was not included in the comptroller's reports, and this tipped the scales in favor of ordering a criminal probe. There had been doubts about whether the comptroller's reports alone sufficed to justify an investigation, it explained.

    But even with the new material, a ministry official said, this will be "a wide-ranging and complex investigation. This is not the [former finance minister Abraham] Hirchson case, in which there were envelopes filled with cash that someone put in his pocket. Here we're talking about things that were done using much more elegant methods."

    Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the police would in the coming days appoint a team of investigators to handle the case.

    Olmert's office swiftly denied the allegations and issued a statement saying "these are unnecessary investigations. It's clear beyond any doubt that the investigation will yield nothing."

    The attorney general's announcement came as Olmert was hosting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is in the region trying to prepare for next month's U.S.-hosted Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

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